Panasonic's officially launched its new full-frame mirrorless camera, the Lumix S1R. We got to spend some time with a pre-production sample of the S1R at its official launch in Barcelona. While we aren’t able to properly assess image quality or make any definite conclusions as to its performance until final firmware arrives, we can share our first impressions on what it looks set to offer those not swayed by existing full-frame mirrorless systems.
Lumix S1R: G-series DNA
- Design closely related to the Lumix G9
- Many tweaks and refinements
- Comfy, deep grip
While technically a new system, there’s plenty of G-series DNA that should ensure anyone used to Panasonic’s previous models can get shooting right away with the Lumix S1R.
Externally, the S1R is closely related to the Lumix G9, with a familiar combination of edges and curves, and a similar handling experience too. Look around, however, and you'll see many things Panasonic has tweaked on the S1R, from the control arrangement on the back through to the shape of the eyecup behind the viewfinder.
Panasonic Lumix S1R specs
Sensor: 47.3MP full-frame CMOS
Lens mount: L mount
Screen: 3.2-inch tri-axis touchscreen, 2.1million dots
Burst shooting: 9fps (6fps with continuous AF)
Autofocus: Contrast-detect AF with DFD
Connectivity: Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
Battery life: 380 shots (360g with EVF) when using SD card
Weight: 1,020g (including card and battery)
The Lumix S1R fits very well in the hands, with the deep grip sculpted nicely to fit the user’s hold. There’s quite some overhang at the top, and some may find this rests a little too much on the index finger, but it’s certainly better than it feeling inadequate (as is the case on other models).
Build quality is somewhat difficult to asses given our brief time with the camera, but it certainly seems to be as good as we should expect at this level (and price). The exterior panels feel solid and all ports are well protected by various doors, while the grip has been treated with a thick rubber coating.
Both the front and rear dials are tactile move very easily, with the front dial standing proud of the top plate for easy operation. The Lumix S1R also sports a menu pad that combines a central button with a circular four-way pad and a scroll dial around it. Operation here is mixed: the scroll dial itself moves very fluidly and the camera responds without any delay whatsoever when rotated, and this makes it very easy to quickly zip through images or menu options at speed. The pad itself, however, is surprisingly unyielding when pressed, and requires quite a push for the S1R to register changes.
Lumix S1R: super-sturdy LCD display
- S1R can by lifted up by its LCD screen
- Power control awkwardly placed
- AF controls easy to distinguish
One thing that's particularly impressive on the Lumix S1R is the sturdiness of the LCD screen’s hinge. At a press briefing, a Panasonic representative demonstrated just how well the screen was bonded to the camera by lifting it up by its LCD screen, which had been adjusted away to its outermost position.
This was with a lens attached to the body, which made it significantly heavier too. We tried this ourselves (very nervously) later on, and also found the S1R remained in one piece after an extended period. While we wouldn’t suggest doing this with any frequency, it does boost confidence in the camera's ability to withstand all kinds of abuse.
One slight annoyance is the position of the power control, which is halfway between the shutter-release button and where the thumb rests on the back. This isn’t a small camera, and so turning the camera on and off requires you to stretch your index finger backwards from where it would naturally fall when you pick it up (it's not really practical to turn it on with your thumb).
It’s a slight but constant annoyance, and decidedly less convenient than a similar control around the shutter-release button. The design of the card slot door on the S1R is also somewhat awkward in that it cannot be opened in a single movement, although this may well be necessary in order to give it the claimed level of weather resistance.
Elsewhere, however, there’s plenty to show how much Panasonic has focused on the smaller details for the Lumix S1R.
The AF joystick, now very much an expected control on such a camera, is particularly sensitive to movements in pretty much any direction on the S1R, including diagonal ones which are sometimes overlooked on other cameras. This is also tightly bunched with the AF area and AF-ON controls, and all feel different enough for you to quickly know which to operate without you needing to look.
The fact that five controls light up – something that happens when you press the lamp button next to the top-plate LCD – is also a nice touch, although use the Lumix S1R long enough and this ind of operation will no doubt become second nature anyway.
Lumix S1R: refreshed interface
- Q. Menu looks to be far more usable
- Menus divided up
- Electronic viewfinder
The menus and GUI have also been refreshed on the Lumix S1R. The Q. Menu in particular looks to be far more usable than before, with all options grouped along the right-hand side of the screen (below) rather than lining the top and bottom as has been the case on G-series models. The menus have also now been divided up so that all options within each sub menu are grouped in tabs, which makes it easier to navigate each section without scrolling through the entire menu at once.
The 5.76million-dot OLED-panelled viewfinder is one of the most striking features on paper, and it provides an excellent performance on the Lumix S1R. Panasonic had already previously raised the bar with the 3.69million-dot viewfinders inside the Lumix GH5, GH5S and G9, and while other manufacturers have caught up in terms of resolution, this new finder should ensure Panasonic stays ahead – at least for now. Sure, it’s still subject to some graininess and minor lagging when used in sub-optimum light, but when conditions are fine you’ll find it offers the most lifelike rendition of the scene of any EVF.
Lumix S1R: High Resolution mode
- Captures 8 images in quick succession
- Blends results into a single image
- Outputs at files 187MP
One of the most interesting new features is the High Resolution mode (below), which captures eight images in quick succession before blending the results into a single image. While the time take to capture the images depends in part on the shutter speed used, the stitching takes around ten seconds or so. Sadly, we were unable to view the raw files produced by this process as they are not supported by third-party software as of yet, but results certainly looked superior to standard captures when zoomed into on the LCD screen, so we loom forward to looking at this in more detail when full production firmware lands.
Face and eye recognition is nothing new on such cameras, but the S1R can also detect human bodies, birds and animals. Both body and face detection appear to work very well, quickly identifying individuals or subjects in a group and placing an appropriate box around them. By pressing the AF joystick, you can also quickly cycle through all subjects identified so that priority can be placed on one subject over another. We only had the opportunity to put these system to work against one animal – a dog – but it likewise identified it very promptly. Quite how it will fare against moving and more distant animals remains to be seen, but were encouraged so far from our time with the camera.
Lumix S1R: in use
We were lucky enough to use the Lumix S1R with all three Panasonic lenses announced at the same time as the bodies, namely the Lumix S Pro 50mm f/1.4, Lumix S 24-105mm f/4 Macro O.I.S. and the Lumix S Pro 70-200mm f/4 O.I.S.. We spent most of our time with the 70-200mm f/4 O.I.S., which is very well balanced on the body and not too heavy, although this is an f/4 lens rather than an f/2.8 option.
Its image stabilisation system, which is aided by the five-axis system inside the body of the S1R, seems to be very effective, with images composed at the telephoto end framed with ease. Autofocus speeds were perfectly good in fine light, but noticeably slower elsewhere, although this is probably not a lens that will be realistically used in low light on account of its aperture, so quite how much of an issue this is is debatable.
The Lumix S Pro 50mm f/1.4 is somewhat larger than we may expect for such an optic, not to mention expensive at £2,299.99 (US and AUS pricing to be confirmed), although this is one of two ‘PRO’ lenses in the line and it's clearly not been designed primarily to take up little space in the your kit bag. Our initial impressions are certainly positive; its aperture ring moves and feedbacks very positively and the lens seems to resolve an excellent level of detail, something that's helped by very effective face recognition when capturing portraits. Indeed, for portraits or other subjects where rendering natural details in a pleasing way is key, some may even consider it to be a little too sharp.
Lumix S1R: early verdict
Overall, while much of the Lumix S1R is familiar, the incision of a fresh full-frame sensor, along with the promises from Sigma and Leica to product lenses for the L-mount the S1R users will give it appeal towards a market that may have previously been discouraged by the Micro Four Thirds system. The fact that so many lenses are set to be "designed and developed" throughout the next year is encouraging, particularly as these include f/2.8 constant-aperture zooms, although Panasonic's choice of words here does make it unclear exactly when they will be available.
The Lumix S1R itself handles very nicely and responds promptly, and is blessed with the best electronic viewfinder we’ve seen yet on such a camera. Together with effective image stabilisation, a very flexible LCD and strong video specs, it certainly has a lot of appeal to a broad market, with the Lumix S1 better suited for those with no use for such a high-resolution sensor or more of a focus for video. This very much mirrors the duality of Nikon's Z6 and Z7, so these will no doubt be viewed as the S1 and S1R's logical competitors.
Quite exactly how many people need a 187MP High Resolution capture option is unclear, but if it turns out this works as well as promised, it may well pique the attention of landscape photographers who regularly enlarge their work for print. Despite a few grumbles with operation, there’s a lot to love about the Lumix S1R and we can’t wait to see where Panasonic takes things from here.
Image Credits: TechRadar